Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mark Twain, The Cat Lover

And might I add another personal favourite quote from this timeless author: 
Of all God's creatures there is only one that cannot be made the slave of the lash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.  
- Notebook, 1894
For more wonderful Mark Twain quotes about cats and pictures of his own little companions, visit this wonderful site: Mark Twain Quotations, Newspaper Collections, & Related Resources.

(Image source: here)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Anyone entertained by internet memes will instantly recognize this little guy. Calling for Jeeves (presumably his butler) in most of his memenic iterations, he has achieved a certain level of stardom, particularly at Originally, however, he was the star of a postcard. A careful search through Google Images permitted me to track down the name of the original postcard company: The Rotograph Co. Situated at 684 Broadway in New York city between 1904 and 1911, this "major printer and publisher" created over 60 000 postcards. However, nothing is to be known about our little well-dressed chap. In fact, we can't even say if he was photographed in New York at all: Rotograph Co. not only created private cards, but also used other sources as well for their images. 
The only thing we can speculate on is this: it would seem that the same cat was used by the photographer for various poses. Indeed, if you look carefully at each of these Rotograph Co. postcards, you can recognize the same calico cat in each! The general look of each fuzzy face along with the same colour pattern point to this being the same cat (even as a kitten one can recognize the star of these cards). Even though at one point we learn through one card that the cat's name is Rags, the "Famous Rotograph Cat", our subject may well be a she: after all, calico cats are almost always female!

UPDATE: I've recently stumbled on a children's book titled Kittens and Cats: A First Reader by Eulalie Osgood Grover and published in 1911. Among the illustrations are plenty more pictures of our dear Rags! Follow this link to read the book:

Humble beginnings for our little star!


Monday, March 11, 2013

Cat Beard Identified

For years, I've been wondering about the identity of the man in this picture. Though I had seen at least one more photo of him with a cat, this one in particular has been a staple of internet memes. It's no wonder: somehow, if the length of this fellow's beard doesn't already make an impression, it's the cat nicely wrapped within it that steals the show. Well, I finally got around to doing a bit of searching on the net. 
Turns out the man is a Frenchman named Louis Coulon. One can easily find more pictures of this remarkable man by simply searching for his name in Google Images. 
Born February 26, 1826 in Vandenesse (Niève), he was (as best I can translate) a "cast iron moulder" at the Forey factory in  Montluçon. Apparently, he was already shaving by age 12 but could not maintain the sharpness of his razor blade from its frequent use. In fact, his beard was growing so fast that by age 14, Coulon already had a 50 centimeter (19.6 inch) beard. From then on, it was just a matter of letting it grow to monstrous length.
Even if Coulon attained a somewhat famous status, he remained humble, even refusing a lord William's offer of 10 000 franc to travel. He was featured on many postcards, one in particular stating that his beard was 3 meters 30 centimeters (129.9 inches) long as of May 10, 1904. Surprisingly, this beard is not considered the world record: that title belongs to Sarwan Singh of Canada, having a 2.37 m (7 ft 9 in) beard. To Mr. Singh's defense  however, there were no Guiness World Record judges prior to 1954... Let us hope, however, that Coulon's beard will one day be vindicated!
But the fact remains, as amazing as Coulon's hirsute look is, it just wouldn't be complete without his fuzzy little companion!

Sources and further reading: 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Kitty Blunders

Cat owners all know it: their feline friends can often end up where they don't belong or do things they shouldn't. Well, a few examples of past kitty misdeeds have come up on the internet in the past few days. Thanks to these veritable time capsules, we can enjoy the shenanigans of past cats. The story of how a cat's paw prints from the Roman era ended up in British-Columbia is particularly fascinating! Here are (to the best of my knowledge) the original stories: 

A Purrrfect Read*

Even my own kitty approves this book

*Note: This blog post was originally written for my other blog on March 25, 2012. Link.

Title: The Well-Read Cat (Originally titled: Des chats passant parmi les livres)
Author: Michèle Sacquin (Translated by Isabel Ollivier)
PublisherBibliothèque nationale de France and Officina Libraria
Published in: 2010, Paris

As the corny yet inevitable title of this review states, I have just polished off a wonderful little book on cats through history. To be more precise, this book is a sampling of images of cats found in the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Anyone who has visited the famed library (or at least its massive website at knows that many treasures are to be found there. It was only a matter of time before a cat lover, incidentally the library’s curator, decided to fish out its feline photographs and imagery. Alongside the panoply of paper cats (as the book calls them), we have the pleasure of reading various quotes on these whiskered critters by famous authors. The main text is a brief exploration of the history of the perception of cats in folklore and popular culture. Thanks to the extensive holdings at the BnF, the author is able to present cats not only in a European context, but a Middle-Eastern and Asian one as well. One page might contain the photograph of an Egyptian cat carved in a regal pose, while another will illustrate a turn-of-the-century French milk ad. Speaking of which, it is good to be reminded that the book was previously published in French before being translated in English and Italian (Gatti di Biblioteca). Rightly so: the allure of this four-legged house-pet reaches beyond geography, as pictures of Japanese pussies will attest to. The reader of this book will also appreciate this last cheeky allusion as the author does not shy away from more explicit symbolism and representations of cats. Indeed, she reminds us that for the longest time, cats were not only linked to witchcraft (in fact, regardless of colour until a few centuries ago), but were equally a symbol of female sexuality. Our only qualm with this book is the numerous mentions of other artwork not reproduced within these pages. Then again, we must remind ourselves that the objective of the book is to highlight only pieces found at the BnF. All in all, even though this book is a relatively short read (easily accomplished in less than an afternoon as I have done, sitting next to the lion statues at the Art Institute of Chicago where I picked up my copy), one can spend hours looking at these wonderful representation of cats through the ages. Do not miss this one, especially if you have a feline companion of your own!

A new meaning to Persian cat...

One seriously creepy medieval puss...

A fine feline if ever there was.

Blog Introduction

Poe, my fuzzy companion.
Credit: Cathrine Davis
Hello friends! 
My name is Joseph Gagné and I am a historian. I also happen to be the owner of a fuzzy little friend named Poe (after Edgar Allan Poe, not the Teletubby...).
I'm amazed to see how little there is blog-wise on cats through history. Hence, I've decided to start my own! By no means do I intend on being exhaustive with my posts (this is simply a part-time hobby, after all!), but I do tend to stumble on cat-oriented historical tidbits every once in a while that I believe deserve a good home on the net. 
As any good historian knows, the true key to good research is networking and so, I do ask of my readership to please send in any cool news or findings they might have stumbled upon, as well as any corrections to any past posts. I predict most of what will be posted here will be gleaned off of source-less websites and would really appreciate it if anyone can point me to the proper origins of any images they might recognize.
Here's to wishing this blog success! 

The author and his stowaway.
Credit: Cathrine Davis